Tenants Kicked Out as Landlords Cash In


Ellis Act evictions are so common in LA these days that I’ve gotten used to hearing reports of landlords kicking their tenants out. It happens all the time. As speculative development continues to push property values higher, property owners are eager to cash in. Over 20,000 units have been removed from the rental market through the Ellis Act since 2000. And in addition to the thousands of tenants who’ve been kicked out under Ellis, it’s likely that thousands more have lost their apartments because they were bamboozled by unscrupulous landlords using cash-for-keys scams.

In the course of writing this blog I’ve met a number of people who’ve either already been evicted or are facing eviction. So when I went to meet a group of tenants who live in a small building on Las Palmas it seemed like a familiar scenario. The owner plans to demolish the existing structure in order to build a 7-story mixed-use project, and so the people currently living there have got to go. The breadwinners in these families are working hard to make ends meet, and odds are they’re getting by on paychecks that add up to well below LA’s median income. While I’m sure they’re worried about getting evicted, one thing that encouraged me is that they seemed much more angry than scared. They’re not going to take this lying down.


Some of the tenants facing eviction.

The tenants are paying much less than the area’s median rent, but they’re also getting next to nothing in terms of repairs and maintenance. I could see walking into the building that the owner wasn’t taking care of it properly. The tenants told me a number of stories about problems with their units that the landlord was either slow to fix or didn’t fix at all. My guess is that he’s been sitting on the property, waiting for the right deal to come along, and didn’t see any point in spending money on upkeep. I should mention that he has laid out some cash to fix up a few of the units, just not the ones that are occupied by the current tenants. You may be asking, why would he do that? The answer is simple. He’s posting the refurbished units on the net as short-term rentals. This is a pretty common practice. Landlords are doing it all over the city, and it’s more or less legal unless the tenants were evicted under the Ellis Act. So when we talk about a shortage of apartments in LA, we have to remember that there are probably thousands of units that are actually being used as unofficial hotel rooms.


Council District 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain.

My friend Sylvie Shain came by to talk with the tenants. Sylvie is running for the CD 13 council seat, in large part because of her concern over LA’s affordable housing crisis. She knows first-hand what it’s like to be evicted, having been forced out of her apartment by owners who planned to turn the building into a boutique hotel. Sylvie spent over an hour with the tenants, giving them info on what protections they had under the law and helping them figure out their next steps.

Several days later I went to a neighborhood council meeting on the proposed project. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the impacts of the new structure, not the eviction of the current tenants, but it’s hard to separate the two. The owner has said that he will reserve seven units in the new building to replace the seven units that are currently occupied in the old building, and that he will offer them to the current tenants at the price they’re now paying. This may sound like a good deal, but there are a few problems with it. First, the owner hasn’t actually signed an agreement, which means he’s under no obligation to honor these terms. Second, while the owner is offering to replace seven units, there are actually fifteen units in the existing building that are covered by the rent stabilization ordinance (RSO). His deal would mean the loss of eight more RSO units. This may not sound like a lot by itself, but thousands of RSO units have been taken off the market in recent years, which is one of the reasons affordable housing is so scarce these days. Third, the owner knows that the new structure will probably take a couple of years to complete. If the current tenants get forced out, there’s a good chance they won’t find anything they can afford in LA. It’s entirely possible that by the time the proposed project is completed, none of them will still be living in the area, and he won’t have to offer them anything.


Neighborhood Council meeting on the proposed project.

Then there’s the way the Department of City Planning (DCP) is trying to push this project through. They’re trying to approve it with a categorical exemption, which means they’re arguing that because it’s in-fill development and conforms to the current zoning, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) doesn’t require an environmental assessment. And to make that argument, they cite CEQA Guidelines, Section 15332. But CEQA requires that the project meet a number of conditions in order to grant the exemption, including the following….

Approval of the project would not result in any significant effects relating to traffic, noise, air quality, or water quality.

Traffic is already getting to be a problem on Las Palmas. Formerly a quiet residential street with one lane going each direction, in recent years it’s become a short cut for drivers looking to avoid congestion on Highland during rush hour. And traffic on Las Palmas is going to get a lot worse, because in addition to this project there are two others about the same size that are currently under construction, one just to the north and one just to the south of the existing building. But wait, there’s more. At the corner of Las Palmas and Franklin work recently began on a complex that wil contain over 100 units. In other words, if this project is approved, the neighborhood will gain about 300 units, which will definitely have a significant impact on traffic.*


Traffic northbound on Las Palmas at rush hour.

What’s more, the proposed project is about 500 feet away from the facility that houses both the Canyon Pre-School and the Las Palmas Sr. Center. Children and seniors are known to be sensitive receptors, and to say that there will be no significant impacts to air quality or noise levels during construction is ridiculous. The kids and seniors at this small facility already suffered an onslaught of construction dust and noise when work on the project at Las Palmas and Franklin began last year. But the DCP apparently just doesn’t give a damn, and so they’re trying to rush this project through with no environmental review whatsoever.

After the neighborhood council meeting, I contacted the DCP hearing officer to find out what the timetable was for the project’s approval. It’s tentatively scheduled to go before the City Planning Commission on April 13, though it could get pushed back. Meanwhile, the tenants wait and wonder whether they’ll have to find a new place to live, in a city where rents are spiralling higher every year.

Some housing advocates may be cheered by this news, but don’t get too excited. The vast majority of these units will be well beyond the reach of those making the area’s median income, $34,807 a year. [Source: LA Times, Measuring income along L.A.’s Metro stations by Kyle Kim and Sandra Poindexter, March 4, 2016]


View of construction site from Highland.

Showing Up and Speaking Out


The recent presidential election has a lot of people worried. But instead of running for cover and cowering in fear, concerned citizens are showing up and speaking out. Today thousands of people gathered in Downtown to show their support for justice, tolerance and equality.

When I got to Grand Park this afternoon, I pulled out my camera and shot some photos of the crowd as I made my way toward City Hall.


Crowd gathered in front of City Hall.


Many people let their signs do the talking.


While others shouted out how they felt.


Another shot of the crowd.


Human rights was a recurring theme.

I saw signs announcing groups from Santa Barbara and Coachella, and it’s my guess that people had come from all over California to attend.


The Coachella crowd.


Others made the trip from Santa Barbara.

CD 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain showed up to talk about how the problems affecting us as a nation are also felt at the local level. And she also took a few photos while she was at it.


CD 13 Candidate Sylvie Shain, in the pink dress.

As it was getting close to three o’ clock, I had to get moving. I walked across the park to the Civic Center Red Line Station, where scores of protesters crowded the platform. And I snapped a few more photos before the train arrived.


Protesters on their way home.


Strength in sisterhood.


My favorite sign of the day.

Who’s Really Standing Up for Artists?

Tensions running high at the Villa Carlotta on Sunday night.

Tensions running high at the Villa Carlotta on Sunday night.

In case you haven’t been following recent events at the Villa Carlotta, I’ll give it to you real quick. It’s a piece of Hollywood history, built in the 20s, and home for many years to musicians, artists, writers and other creative folk. But it was rent-controlled, and not too long ago the owner decided he wasn’t making enough money off it, so he sold the property to a developer who planned to turn it into an extended-stay hotel. As part of the process, it was deemed necessary to get rid of the existing tenants. Many of them were forced out using the Ellis Act.

Windows boarded up at the Villa Carlotta.

Windows boarded up at the Villa Carlotta.

Of the 50 apartments in the Carlotta, four are still occupied. Some of the tenants decided to fight the evictions, and not just because they wanted to hang on to their homes. There are a number of reasons to object to what the developer is doing here. First, the Carlotta is a historic building, and as such it’s protected by state law. In order to turn it into a hotel, the current owner planned extensive alterations to the structure. The remaining tenants, worried that the modifications would do irreparable damage, took their case to the Cultural Heritage Commission, which sided with them. Second, Ellis Act evictions have caused the loss of thousands of rent-controlled units in LA. A recent study by UCLA found that this city is the least affordable major city in the nation, and mass evictions are only making things worse.

And third, up until this whole mess started, the Carlotta was home to a community of creative people. According to many of the former tenants, it was a place where budding screenwriters and struggling artists could meet friends and make connections, where they could share their work and shape their ideas.

The lobby where tenants used to gather, now deserted.

The lobby where tenants used to gather, now deserted.

This aspect of the story took on new importance when it was announced that the Hollywood Arts Council had decided to hold a fundraiser at the Carlotta. The HAC apparently thought it would be the ideal place for the event, which was held to raise money for arts education at nearby Cheremoya Elementary School. The remaining tenants at the Carlotta were surprised by the announcement. It seemed odd that an organization which has the stated goal of supporting the arts in Hollywood had decided to hold their event at a venue that was nearly vacant because dozens of artists had been forced to leave.

They contacted the HAC and explained the situation, asking if the organization would consider moving the event. The answer was polite, but firm, no. Bothered by the apparent hypocrisy of the HAC’s actions, the tenants decided to protest.

Sylvie Shain, one of the few remaining inhabitants, had imagined the protest as an elaborate performance piece. Former tenants were asked to come to the event wearing white, and they would stand for the ghosts of the Villa Carlotta. Alternately, attendees could show up dressed in red to symbolize of the affordable housing massacre that’s taking place. The idea was to dramatize the plight of renters throughout the City.

Protesters holding a banner to protest evictions.

Protesters holding a banner to protest evictions.

The same message in English.

The same message in English.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned. The first part of the protest, with people congregating on the sidewalk outside, went smoothly. But when Sylvie led a group into the building things got kind of chaotic. There were moments when I couldn’t figure out what was going on. But one thing is clear. At one point Sylvie was forcibly ejected from the building and temporarily denied re-entry.

On the positive side, the event got a fair amount of media coverage. Two local stations showed footage on the evening news, and Curbed did a piece as well. The Los Angeles Tenants Union joined the residents of the Carlotta, and LATU members spoke eloquently about the affordable housing crisis in LA, emphatically pointing out the damage that the Ellis Act is doing.

It’s important to say that artists aren’t just having a hard time finding housing in Hollywood. In recent years Silverlake and Echo Park have both seen an exodus of musicians, writers and others who can’t afford to pay what landlords are asking these days. And then there’s the sick joke of the Arts District in Downtown. In the late 70s, creative people started moving to the industrial districts in the City’s center. The community came together because people who were struggling to make music or art or whatever could find cheap rents in areas that nobody else wanted to live in. But then the developers discovered it, started marketing it as the Arts District, and housing prices soared. Many of the artists who had created the community were forced to leave because it got too damn expensive.

So let’s get back to the question I asked in the heading for this post. This past Sunday night, who was really standing up for artists? Was it the Hollywood Arts Council, knowingly holding their fundraiser at a site where dozens of creative people had been forced to leave? Or was it the scrappy band of tenants who staged an action to call attention to the fact that artists and others are being thrown out of their homes all over LA?

You can probably guess what my answer would be.

Sylvie put together a beautiful brochure for the event, which you can view by clicking on the link below.

Ghosts of the Carlotta

And if you’d like more info about the situation at this historic building, here’s a link to the Save Villa Carlotta Facebook page.

Save Villa Carlotta

VC 6 Fac Clouds